Distribution and spatial modelling of a soft coral habitat in the Port Stephens-Great Lakes Marine Park: Implications for management

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Journal Article
Marine and Freshwater Research, 2016, 67 (2), pp. 256 - 265
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© CSIRO 2016. Habitat mapping is a useful method for understanding the complex spatial relationships that exist in the marine environment, and is used to evaluate the effectiveness of management strategies, particularly in regards to marine protected areas. This study explored the observed and predicted distribution of an uncommon soft coral species, Dendronephthya australis within the Port Stephens-Great Lakes Marine Park. Dendronephthya australis was mapped by video operated by a SCUBA diver towing a time synchronised GPS. A species distribution model was created to explore the possible occurrence of D. australis outside of the mapped area, using four environmental parameters: bathymetry, slope of seabed, velocity of tidal currents, and distance from estuary mouth. Dendronephthya australis colonies occurred along the southern shoreline in the Port Stephens estuary between Fly Point and Corlette Point, but no colonies were found within sanctuary (no-take) zones within the marine park. The model illustrated limited habitat suitability for D. australis within a larger section of the estuary, suggesting this species has specific environmental requirements survival. Owing to its current threats (anchor damage and fishing line entanglement), implications from these findings will assist future management and protection decisions, particularly in regard to its protection within a marine park.
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